Jigsaw & His Games Are All Played Out

by Ben Martin

Twelve years ago on Halloween, a new horror movie took the world by surprise. That movie was Saw (2004), the gory tale of two men trapped in a room by an unseen, sadistic tormentor. In order to escape, they must commit extreme and violent acts. The film was directed by James Wan (The Conjuring 2 and next summer’s Aquaman) and written by he and Leigh Whannell (the upcoming Insidious: The Last Key). Saw was the pair’s debut effort, made independently for only $1.2 million.
At that time, Lions Gate was a movie studio that had just been in the game for a few years. In its short tenure, the studio had made its name and built its business mainly through distributing hardcore R rated horror movies. Thus, for Lions Gate, this Saw was the perfect fit for them. At this point in the studio’s history, most of the titles they released were only moderate successes as the horror genre was in one of its transitional periods. In other words, the genre was waiting for a movie to come along and infuse some new blood. It turns out that Saw would do just that, making over $100 million worldwide.

In doing so, not only did Saw make Lions Gate a major player, but it also created a new horror sub-genre. This sub-genre would come to be known as “torture porn,” a term coined by critics and  media pundits who did not care for the subgenre’s  offerings. Not that the misnomer of “torture porn” is a completely inaccurate one, mind you. After all, this subgenre of horror did focus on extreme acts of violence and torture, perpetrated on humans, by humans. These torture films took themselves very seriously.
Thus, unlike the exploitation flicks of the 70s and 80s, there was no sense of humor or fun within this subgenre; just violence and torture soaked in the blood and gore of generally highly unlikeable characters. During the glory days of these films (the early-mid 2000s), I was a teenage horror fan. And sadly, just like everyone else, I consumed these torture films. I saw them all, not just the franchise in question or Hostel (2006). Like the masses, I think I was just consumed with the brutality and newness of it all. At the time, I had not seen anything quite like torture films.
Nor had the mainstream, movie-going public for that matter. Of course, a large number of these torture films belonged to the franchise that Saw had spawned. From 2004-2010, seven Saw movies were released. All of them being unleashed around Halloween because as the marketing touted during those years, “If it’s Halloween, it must be SAW.” Every one of these entries was financially successful, to one degree or another. However, over the years I, as well as well as general moviegoers, slowly tired of the Saw franchise and the subgenre it birthed. Not to mention, the franchise and torture films were steadily overtaken by the Paranormal Activity franchise and the haunted house subgenre, which had been a large part of the horror genre, since its inception. Once again and still currently, the haunted house film is always a draw.

The boom in horror in the early-mid 2000s was arguably partially due to the country being in wartime under a Republican-led government. If you look throughout history, you’ll see that the horror genre always peaks during times of conservative administration or wartime. (Not that those two are necessarily related, mind you. I am not trying to be political, just acknowledging a part of film history.) However, in 2017, we once again see this trend occur. Horror has been one of the mainstays of this year’s box-office, and the studios aren’t planning on stopping new offerings anytime soon. In fact, if  I would say the genre will not slow down anytime soon. Particularly not for the next 3-7 years. Thus, it’s no surprise that Lions Gate chose now to resurrect their breadwinning Saw franchise.
Jigsaw is the newest and eighth installment of the franchise. The new title drops the traditional Saw followed by a number format. Like many other franchises, it instead merely takes the name of the particular entry and franchise’s major character. Usually, this  approach to a title is taken to indicate importance or a soft reboot of the franchise. Recent examples of these include Rambo (2008), Creed (2015), Logan (2017), etc. In this newest installment, a series of killings occur. When detectives Halloran (Callum Keith Rennie ) and Hunt (Clé Bennett) and medical examiner, Logan Nelson (Matt Passmore) investigate, they notice something; the victims and the scenes of these crimes match those of John Kramer, the Jigsaw Killer (Tobin Bell) which is impossible as Kramer’s been dead for a decade. Meanwhile, someone is playing games with Jigsaw’s old methods. Four people awake chained up, with buckets on their heads. These potential victims find that they must play Jigsaw’s games to survive.
As I mentioned earlier, torture films have fallen from grace. If Jigsaw is any indication of why this happened, then it’s probably with good reason. I found this movie to be nothing more than a dull exercise in an attempt at bringing back a has-been horror trend. The only positive thing that I can say about it is that it looked decent and was well-lit from a cinematography standpoint. This proved to be a pleasant sight as it’s predecessors popularized and all possessed what I refer to as the gross and grimy look. More accurately, all the franchise’s other films looked like they had had their prints soaked in urine and then were processed through stale green and blue lights. At first, that look was unique but quickly became an eye-irritant after about three entries. Thankfully, this flick is quite the opposite; being sleek and clean from a visual standpoint.
Unfortunately, that is the only positive thing I have to say about this movie. As I said, it’s just dull and uninspired. There seems to be an attempt at remaining true to the franchise while bringing  nothing new to it. Instead, Jigsaw is just as convoluted and sloppily written as the majority of its predecessors. Beyond that, it’s not as if the traps in this film were things we hadn’t seen before. On the contrary, these traps, which the franchise is known for, are just elaborate re-appropriations of traps from days past. Worst of all, the movie’s characters and particularly the victims, are repulsive.
Granted, horror films only tend to have sympathetic or deplorable victims with very little wiggle room in between. However, these victims are so wretched that by halfway through this flick, I wanted them to die. Unlike in the first two Saw installments, Jigsaw’s victims cannot remotely be empathized with by viewers. Also, I  found Jigsaw’s resurrected modus operandi to be more irritating and self-important than anything else. In my opinion, torture films have seen their heyday and probably should not have another one. Besides, the Saw franchise needs to die. However, it won’t due to its profitable box-office, thus far. Perhaps I’ve just outgrown this franchise and subgenre, and younger horror fans will love it. No matter how this movie is received overall, I think it is one of the year’s worst releases. Without a doubt, ‘Jigsaw’ and his games are all played out.

Jigsaw is NOW PLAYING in theaters.

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